In 2008 a British atheist, Mr. Matthew Parris, wrote a column for The Times of London that had Christians talking ever since. Its title was As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. Parris tells the story of how he and some friends returned to the continent of his youth in a Land Rover, traveling from Algiers on the Mediterranean all the way down to Malawi, or Nyasaland as it was called at his birth 45 years ago. They often slept under the stars, so it was important to reach more populated areas before nightfall… preferably “near a mission”. He continues: “whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to; something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away.”
Parris recalls how the Christians were always different from the rest of the population where he grew up in Malawi. “Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall”.
Parris also says that traveling in Malawi refreshed a belief that he has been trying to banish all his life living in the UK, but which he cannot avoid. It confounds his ideological beliefs and stubbornly refuses to fit his atheistic worldview. “Now a confirmed atheist…” he writes “I’ve’ become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa”. True Christian mission work says Parris, should never be confused with the work of secular NGO’s and international aid groups, for education and training alone will never do. “In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”
I wish I had the opportunity to explain to Mr. Parris why this kind of spiritual transformation under the Gospel happens so seldom in the UK today, so that he won’t have to succumb to his sad atheistic worldview any longer. Nevertheless, fast forward from 2008 to 2018 and Matthew Parris’ words underscore the huge importance of what happened this past weekend, just east of South Africa’s capital Pretoria, when hundreds of thousands gathered for prayer.
Let me be honest I am a little skeptic when it comes to mass rallies, loud music, and charismatic preachers. I am also aware of how easy it is to “make a commitment” and then go back home unchanged. And I certainly understand how these type of mass rallies can have an effect on the human psyche that should not always be confused with real repentance and faith.
And yet… in a world such as ours, with so much brokenness and chaos, so much hatred and evil, so much corruption and greed, so much lewdness and lust and addiction and abuse, and above all so much derision and denial of the only living God and his Son, Jesus Christ, what happened on October 27 is truly a miracle. It is something we must all take notice of. Close relatives of mine who attended this event were profoundly touched by Mr. Angus Buchan’s bold message and the radical call for repentance to all who attended, and who did not attend, the government included. In times of great moral crisis and decay, God wants us to come together to confess our sins and to cry out for mercy as they did. See Nehemiah 8.
Consider also that in my youth white and black hardly ever prayed together. What Dr. Martin Luther King once said about America, was just as true about South Africa: “Never is America more segregated than at 11 am on a Sunday morning!” With that in mind, have a look at this promo video for Its Time…